Sample the Jewish foods from the Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Israeli traditions during Temple B’Nai Israel’s Food Festival on Sunday, July 11, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event will be held on the temple’s grounds at 210 Court St., Laconia, and will include a buffet, an “Almost New Boutique,” and raffles.
The Jewish Food Festival has been an annual event for the congregation for the past 12 years. In the past, attendance has been between 500 and 600 people.
“Every year it grows like crazy,” said Irene Gordon, the event’s organizer. “We pray for no rain.”
This year, the festival will offer traditional Jewish foods from the three major ethnic groups that have lived in Europe, the Middle East, and Northern Africa.
“One of the things we wanted to do this year is to explain to people the different types of cooking,” Gordon said.
The first major group is Ashkenazi Jews, who originate from the majority of Europe.
“That’s where most of our population would originate from,” Gordon said.
The Ashkenazi foods will include chicken soup with matzo balls, barley soup, chopped liver and chopped herring. Corned beef and brisket sandwiches on rolls will be among the offerings, as well as sweet and sour meatballs, stuffed cabbage and potato latkes. The festival will also offer kugel, a widely known Jewish casserole made with egg noodles and cheese that becomes custard-like. Knishes are another one of the main dishes served at the festival. They are pastries filled with meat or potato. Gordon said they were the Jewish equivalent to a Chinese wonton or Polish pierogi.
“Without hesitation, our best sellers are blintzes,” Gordon said. The blintzes are crepes filled with farmer’s cheese and served with sour cream and strawberries.
To represent the Israeli culture, the festival will serve chickpea-based falafels and hummus. Israeli salad, a dish of finely chopped tomatoes and cucumbers covered in spices, will be offered.
Sephardic Jews are those who lived on the Iberian peninsula in Spain and Portugal before they were exiled in the late 15th century. The Sephardic Jews moved to Northern Africa, Istanbul and other parts of Europe, and adopted the tastes and cooking techniques of these regions. At the festival, attendees will be able to try Moroccan chicken with couscous, and a spinach fritter. These items are very spicy and reflect the tastes of Northern Africa.
There will be a variety of Jewish-style desserts, including rugelach, a crescent-shaped pastry made from cream cheese dough and filled with preserves and nuts. Gordon said that their New York style cheesecake is usually a big hit.
Those who follow a strict kosher diet should be advised that the offerings will not be completely kosher, meaning meat and dairy products might be mixed.
“We are a reform congregation,” Gordon said. “We don’t have anything that is trafe.”
“Trafe” is a term used to describe foods that are improper to eat for most Jewish people, including shellfish, pork and many wild birds.
Everything at the event is homemade during the weeks leading up to the event. It usually takes about 30 cooking get-togethers to make everything.
“We have about 15 people who are the key cooks,” Gordon said.
Of course, you needn’t be Jewish to enjoy the food at the festival. The event is open to the entire community.
“A lot of the Laconia community comes,” Gordon said. “Sometimes they come right after church.”
Many items are available frozen so that people can take some home and cook it in the future. People can also call ahead to order food to pick up. The phone number for pickup is 496-0944.
Gordon said most of the recipes used for the event have been passed down from congregation members’ ancestors. They have created a cookbook that reflects this oral tradition: The Joy of Jewish Cooking: Just like Mother Used to Make It will be available for sale at the event for $12.
The event also features an “Almost New Boutique,” which Gordon described as a “glorified yard sale.”
There will be a raffle for restaurant gift certificates and other donated items. Congregation members have donated services, such as will preparation from a lawyer and closing costs from a real estate agent.
“This is our major fundraiser for the year,” Gordon explained. She said that the congregation usually donates a large portion of the proceeds to organizations like the New Hampshire Food Bank or Salvation Army.